Workers throughout Asia help create shows

TOKYO — Ninjas in India? Believe it. Japan’s TV Asahi network is partnering with Indian toon producer Reliance Media Works to make 26 episodes of “Ninja Hattori-kun,” a revival of a classic kiddie TV toon series.

The new strand, the first for the series in 25 years, is aimed at both the Japanese and other Asian markets, including India, where the vintage toon adventures of the pint-sized ninja are a staple on Nickelodeon’s Nick India. Shin-ei, the TV Asahi subid that made the original show, will provide creative direction, while Reliance will handle production chores.

Foreign outsourcing of anime goes back decades, but in recent years the pace has been picking up, to the point where observers fret about the cratering of a key Japanese content industry. “A third of the labor pool for Japanese animation is actually outside Japan,” says Jonathan Clements, an anime maven writing an industrial history of Japanese animation for the British Film Institute. “I can see that climbing ever higher, until a Japanese animation company is three men in a Tokyo apartment, outsourcing every other aspect of production overseas.”

Takahiro Kishimoto, a producer on “Hattori,” admits that outsourcing animation production is a sensitive issue in the Japanese biz, but argues that the Reliance deal differs from the usual outsourcing arrangment since the toon draws high ratings in the subcontractor’s home market.

” ‘Ninja Hattori’ is currently being broadcast in India multiple times every day, so all the animators at Reliance are really motivated to work on this project,” he says.

Despite the Indian input, the show will remain 100% Japanese in content, aimed primarily at Japanese auds. “The deeper Shin-ei focuses on its audience in Japan, the better its shows will reach outside of Japan,” Kishimoto says. “Trying to produce shows for everybody in the global market often means that they appeal to nobody.”

Why the outsourcing trend? As U.S animation producers discovered decades ago, production costs overseas in such anime outsourcing centers as South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and, more recently, India and China, are far lower than in Japan — a savings of about half, in the case of the Reliance deal.

Also, Japanese producers face a dwindling audience pool. The anemic Japanese birth rate, currently the lowest in the world at 1.21 children per woman, has led to a total population decline. With fewer kids tuning in, the number of toons on Japanese TV has fallen nearly 30%, since hitting a peak in 2006.

Finally, as the Reliance deal indicates, Japanese companies aim to aggressively expand sales abroad to counterbalance the shrinking market at home.

“It is getting more and more difficult to launch new shows or maintain existing shows if they are only for Japanese market,” Kishimoto says. “This trend of shifting from domestic to foreign markets is happening in every (Japanese) industry, but in the entertainment industry … the change could be radical.”

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